October 8, 2003
Though a peace agreement between the Khartoum regime and the SPLM/A seems very likely in the next month or so,
[THIS WAS IN FACT THE PREVAILING VIEW AT THE TIME; but WHEN KHARTOUM SAW THAT BY MAKING AN AGREEMENT IN NAIVASHA SEEM “IMMINENT,” AND YET ALWAYS DELAYING FINAL AGREEEMENT, THE INCENTIVE TO DELAY AGREEING WAS SIMPLY TOO GREAT AS DARFUR CONTINUED TO EXPLODE. THIS IS THE PRICE OF EXPEDIENCY—Eric Reeves, June 1, 2004]
no one should mistake this as an outbreak of altruism or good will on the part of the National Islamic Front. The regime is fundamentally unchanged in its regard for the non-Arabized and non-Islamicized populations in Sudan. To see just how brutally Khartoum continues to tyrannize this vast nation, we need only look at recent, deeply disturbing reports from Darfur Province in western Sudan. Military assaults by Khartoum and its Arab militia allies have produced hundreds of thousands of displaced persons in the region, disproportionately women and children. Antonov bombing attacks have killed scores and terrorized the populations in Darfur, sending streams of fleeing civilians into neighboring Chad.
As of September 6, 2003 these actions all violate a cease-fire agreement signed by the National Islamic Front regime and the Sudan Liberation Army Movement (SLA/SLM). (Deliberate attacks on civilians have, of course, always been war crimes, and the regime’s actions in Darfur continue to add to an exceedingly long list of such crimes.) In assessing the likelihood of a just and lasting peace being negotiated at Naivasha (Kenya) between Khartoum and the SPLM/A (representing the people of southern Sudan), recent and ongoing events in Darfur can hardly be considered irrelevant.
The UN’s Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reports today (October 8, 2003):
“Tens of thousands of people who have fled from Darfur in western Sudan to neighbouring Chad are ‘invisible’ to the humanitarian community, receiving practically no assistance, according to Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) [Doctors Without Borders].
IRIN continues in its report:
“The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that about 75,000 people are currently scattered on the edge of the Darfur conflict zone, on the Chadian side of the border. Most of them, spread out over 600 km, are women and children. With temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius during the day and minus 15 at night, as well as sand storms and rain, respiratory infections among the refugees are on the rise. They have little shelter, relying on torn rags and bits of plastic sheeting.
“According to MSF, there is no clean drinking water, forcing people to dig in sandy riverbeds with their bare hands to find ‘a dirty brown liquid.’ With scarce food supplies, malnutrition is also on the increase.”
(IRIN, October 8, 2003)
The UN has also estimated that in addition to those civilians who have been driven into Chad, 300,000 people have been displaced within Darfur by Khartoum’s attacks since August.
As it has previously, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) today sent a clear message to the international community about what has caused the plight of those internally displaced and turned into refugees in the harsh environs of Darfur and eastern Chad:
“On top of the hardship faced in Chad, the refugees have already had to flee their homes to escape aerial bombardments and militia attacks in Darfur, MSF pointed out. ‘Without exception, the refugees are traumatised by the violence they have been subjected to. Many no longer have the emotional strength to do anything except lie in the sand day and night, letting events unfold around them,’ it said…. ‘The military response by the government, which escalated throughout the summer forcing more and more people to become displaced or to flee to Chad, is being backed up by systematic attacks by Arab militias who seek to crush the rebellion and terrorise villagers,’ MSF said.” (IRIN, October 8, 2003)
Again, these military actions by Khartoum must be seen in the context of a cease-fire agreement between the regime and the nascent Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) that went into effect on September 6, 2003. As a key term of this cease-fire, Khartoum committed itself to controlling its allied militias; but as Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres and other humanitarian organizations have made abundantly clear, the killings, burning of villages, and displacements have continued.
These attacks are directed primarily against the Masseleit, Fur, and Zaghawa peoples—Muslim but largely non-Arabized tribal groups in the remote western regions of Sudan. These groups have long been subject to Khartoum’s racial bigotry and intolerance, attitudes that have animated deeply repressive and discriminatory measures for decades. Human rights abuses have been severe, widespread, and continuous. Representatives of the Masseleit Community in Exile (RMCE) have provided an extremely detailed account of recent attacks by Khartoum’s forces and Arab militias, including particular villages burned, attacked, and plundered (see, for example, http://www.massaleit.info).
To be sure, the situation in Darfur was dire even before Khartoum aggressively responded militarily to the insurrection that had exploded out of years of repressive and discriminatory treatment. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on October 7, 2003:
“The number of people in the Darfur region displaced because of recent conflict is estimated at 300,000. In addition, there are up to 200,000 internally displaced persons who arrived in 1988, 1992 and 2001,’ OCHA said. ‘Militias continue to destroy livelihoods and cause displacement into Nyala town in south Darfur, global malnutrition rates have reportedly increased and humanitarian partners on the ground do not have the human and financial resources to cope with the evolving situation,’ the Office added.” [United Nations (New York) NEWS, October 7, 2003]
This has not always been the case in Darfur, and the decline in living and humanitarian conditions is a measure of how brutal Khartoum’s tyranny has been. In an earlier dispatch, United Nations NEWS (September 17, 2003) had noted that historically, “the Greater Darfur Region had a vibrant and diversified economy, comprising agricultural production, livestock, forestry, small scale and processing industries, financial, trade, transport and marketing activities. The region is now among the poorest and most neglected in the Sudan.”
Moreover, the conflict precipitated by Khartoum’s escalating military violence threatens to become international. The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reported (September 30, 2003) that Khartoum has “Continued Militia Incursions Across Border With Chad”:
“An estimated 2,000 militia from Darfur in western Sudan launched an attack in neighbouring Chad on Sunday, rounding up 800 camels and driving them across the border. The camels, which are a key source of livelihood in this desert region of eastern Chad, were stolen from nomads in Koulbous, about 20 km north of Birak town, said Sonia Peyrassol, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Operational Coordinator for Chad.”
This is the context in which to understand Khartoum’s nominal agreement to provide “unimpeded humanitarian access” for the Darfur region. Even as its military forces and allies are dramatically exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, Khartoum hopes to secure international favor by agreeing to humanitarian access. But while access has improved significantly since September 6, 2003, resources are very limited and major problems remain. A good example of the regime’s bad faith is captured in an IRIN dispatch of October 6, 2003, focusing on humanitarian operations in Darfur:
“The [Khartoum] government has said it will immediately send some 3,600 people camped on the edge of Nyala town [southern Darfur province] back to their homes where it will provide security for them. However, some humanitarian workers fear the IDPs will disperse if forced to return, making it even harder to provide relief to them.” (UN IRIN, October 6, 2003)
And again, as IRIN reports today of the situation created in neighboring Chad,
“Tens of thousands of people who have fled from Darfur in western Sudan to neighbouring Chad are ‘invisible’ to the humanitarian community, receiving practically no assistance, according to Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) [Doctors Without Borders].” (UN IRIN, October 8, 2003)
Darfur provides what should be a troubling context in which to look at the daunting challenges that remain for any truly successful peace process for southern Sudan and the other marginalized areas. Darfur’s rebellion against the regime’s tyranny was met by Khartoum with an effort to overwhelm militarily the aspirations of these long and deeply aggrieved peoples. Indeed, as many as five army brigades were redeployed to Darfur this past spring when the potency of the insurrection became clear to the National Islamic Front. There can hardly be any doubting the intense pressure this military state of affairs brought to bear on Khartoum’s negotiating position with the SPLM/A in the Machakos/IGAD process.
But a peace agreement that has as one of its key elements the military threat to Khartoum posed by the Darfur insurrection will hardly have the most solid of foundations. On the contrary, to the extent that Darfur is militarily subdued, we may expect to see Khartoum more inclined to renege on security arrangements negotiated two weeks ago at Naivasha. International recognition of exactly what has governed Khartoum’s negotiating decisions is critical if any peace agreement emerging from Machakos/IGAD auspices is to be meaningful.
Indeed, no sooner had Khartoum signed a cease-fire with the opposition SLA/M in Darfur than the regime immediately violated its terms. Agence France-Presse reported on September 8, 2003 (two days after the cease-fire had gone into effect):
“Sudanese troops violating a two-day old ceasefire fired mortars Monday at a rebel base in western Sudan, a day after killing two rebels in an air strike, a rebel leader charged. In a telephone call from the Darfur region, rebel leader Mani Arkoi Minawi told AFP in Cairo that Sudanese troops and allied militias had fired mortars Monday at bases of his Sudan Liberation Movement in North Darfur. The SLM secretary general added that ‘two Sudan Liberation Movement fighters were killed and four wounded in a helicopter raid by government forces’ in Kutum.” (AFP, September 8, 2003)
The United Nations NEWS (New York) reported (September 15, 2003):
“Hundreds of Sudanese refugees are streaming into Chad to escape new air attacks, reportedly by government forces, in Sudan’s war-scarred Darfur region, pushing the number of Sudanese who have recently fled to the neighbouring country to nearly 70,000, according to the UN refugee agency.”
The UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks also reported on Khartoum’s continuing military activity:
“‘Since the ceasefire until yesterday, there have been almost continuous attacks,’ Minni Minawi Arkou, Secretary-General of the SLA, told IRIN. ‘Sometimes they attack with aircraft, sometimes with tanks, sometimes with militia, sometimes they come together,’ he said.”
“On Friday two helicopter gunships attacked Khashaba, about 30km north of Kutum, northern Darfur, he said. As people fled from fields to escape the gunshots, militiamen arrived to steal their cattle. About 75 people were killed in the incident, while over 40 had gone ‘missing’ since the attacks, he said. On Saturday a further 17 civilians were killed by militiamen in Abu Leiha, about 100 km west of Kutum, said Minnawi.” (IRIN, September 15, 2003)
This is the reality of the “cease-fire” in Darfur: a vast humanitarian crisis, ongoing and unacknowledged military attacks by Khartoum and its allies, and yet more human destruction and displacement. If these realities—endured for so many years in southern Sudan and other marginalized areas–are to be ended, it will require more than merely the signatures of members of the National Islamic Front.
For the people of the south to enjoy the true fruits of peace, there must be a truly robust, fully funded, effectively deployed, international peace-keeping force. The mandate of such a force must be clear, and its ability to confront threats to peace must be unambiguous. Moreover, to forestall the chaotic developments that threaten to follow upon any peace agreement concluded between Khartoum and the SPLM/A, there must be very substantial transitional aid—of a sort not envisioned in any meaningful way in the present supplemental spending bill submitted to Congress by the US State Department. The European Union has made a good faith start with its recent commitment, but much more is required of the EU and other nations as well.
Whether we are looking at the present crisis in Darfur or the challenge of negotiating a just and lasting peace for the people of southern Sudan, the realities of the regime in Khartoum must not be forgotten. And to the extent that the crisis in Darfur, and its attendant military demands on the regime, explains the actions of Khartoum in negotiating an agreement under Machakos/IGAD auspices, we must be appropriately—which is to say deeply—skeptical of the sustainability of such an agreement outside a context of decisive international guarantees and guarantors.
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